Casa Urola, a piece of my heart is there

In the firmament of San Sebastian, Pablo Loureiro’s restaurant is shining too, what with pintxos, seafood and lots of warmth

13-11-2018

Let’s forget about metropolises like Tokyo, almost 14 million inhabitants, or the more “moderate” Paris, with 2 million and 229.000.  San Sebastian, 185.000 inhabitants, is the city with the largest number of stars in the world. In the Basque Country, it’s almost impossible to eat bad food. To enjoy yourself, you’d just have to eat some pintxos, what the rest of Spain calls tapas, one bar after the other, or visit some ordinary restaurant. Then you have men-only dining clubs (alas, we’re in 2018), and all the restaurants awarded by the various guides.

In old San Sebastian my favourite place is Casa Urola Jatetxea, where Urola stands for the river flowing through the Pais Vasco and jatetxea is the Basque word for restaurant. It first opened in 1956, and Pablo Loureiro Rodil took over on the 12th of August 2012. Pablo is the third-generation in a family of cooks and restaurateurs. His grandfather and father were the pillars of an historical establishment, Rodil, on the slopes of mount Ulia. Pablo used to live above the kitchen. While he studied catering he practiced at Rodil, which closed in 1999. He then started cooking at Branca, always as patron.

The turning point came in 2012. His wife Begoña, a lawyer, joined her husband’s dream and left her profession. He’s finally the king of a kitchen of his own, while his wife is the queen of the dining room. Casa Urola is structured on two floors. On the ground floor they serve pintxos, the à la carte menu is offered on the first floor but there are some tables on the ground floor too, for those who prefer a more informal and nosier atmosphere. Seven cooks and two brigades, four on the top floor, three downstairs. Pintxos are very serious nibbles. Pablo loves seasonal ones. One month ago, for instance, they had chargrilled mushrooms with pine nuts, duck sauce, egg yolk and cream of potato and Chargrilled artichokes with mojo sauce and salted almond praline.

A note for tourists and travellers, in other words for foreigners in the Basque  Country: no local has a favourite  place, when it comes to tapas. They have many more than one because you move from one place to the other, and have a pinxtos here, a pinxtos there, and a third one elsewhere… And you drink. In time, tourism has created problems for this custom, and waiters working at the bar are making less and less issues. It’s much easier and practical to fill the dishes, count the pieces and note them down, instead of keeping in mind what the dozens of people have picked with their fingers or a toothpick. Tourism brings money, as well as ignorance, trivialising many traditions.

Pablo Loureiro loves cooking vegetables and fish, possibly on the embers. The atmosphere is laid back, there’s no stress, and they’re always smiling. And if you don’t like something, it’s most often your fault, like with the Rice with clams, cooked on the spot. In June I wondered what it was like, and ordered it out of curiosity, which clashes with reason. What could it be like, for the palate of a Milanese? Let’s change topic.

Four months later, only pleasure, I don’t usually persevere: Tuna, tomatoes confit and shallot; Calamari in a cream of beans from Navarra; Anchovies and tuna belly; Grilled seasonal vegetables with calamari; some moving, stir fried mixed mushrooms and finally Torrija with caramel and coffee ice cream, a cake made by recuperating stale bread. The dining room at Casa Urola is like a projection of my home.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso

CASA UROLA JATETXEA
Fermín Calbetón 20
Donostia - San Sebastián
Telefono: +34.943.441371
E-mail: info@casaurolajatetxea.es
Closed on Tuesday 
Average prices: seasonal dishes between 13.50 and 28.50 euros; starters 13.50/32 euros; fish 21.50/36.50; meat 24.50/46.50 and desserts 8.


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